Why Men Commit Suicide: The Three Warning Signs Most People Miss

photo by jamesackerley

Jed Diamond, P.h.D, looks at suicide in men from both an individual and societal vantage point and gives ways to prevent it from happening. 

Recently I received a review copy of the book, Lonely at the Top: The High Cost of Men’s Success by Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. I was happy to offer a review. Dr. Joiner is one of the world’s leading experts on suicide and has published two previous books, Myths about Suicide (Harvard University Press 2010) and Why People Die by Suicide (Harvard University Press 2005).

Dr. Joiner and I share a professional interest in suicide prevention. Suicide is a major world-wide epidemic taking the lives of over 1,000,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization. Estimates suggest that 10 to 20 times more individuals attempt suicide.

Self-harm now takes more lives than war, murder, and natural disasters combined.

Our personal lives have also been touched by suicide. My mid-life father tried to commit suicide when I was 5 years old. Although he lived, our lives were never the same.  I grew up wondering what happened to my father and was terrified that the same thing would happen to me. My life-long interest in men’s health grew from my desire to help men, and the women and children who love them, to understand what causes men to give up on life and what we can do to keep them engaged.

Dr. Joiner’s father, also named Thomas, killed himself when Dr. Joiner was in his third year of graduate school. Although the senior Thomas was depressed, he didn’t seem like a suicide risk. As reported by Tony Dokoupil in a recent article, The Suicide Epidemic, “the 56-year old Joiner was gregarious, the kind of guy who was forever talking and laughing and bending people his way. He wasn’t a brittle person with bad genes and big problems. Thomas Joiner Sr. was a successful businessman, a former Marine, tough even by Southern standards.” As it turned out, these “manly” traits may have contributed to his demise.

Joiner remembers the day his father disappeared. “Dad had left an unmade bed in a spare room, and an empty spot where his van usually went. By nightfall he hadn’t been heard from, and the following morning my mother called me at school. The police had found the van. It was parked in an office lot about a mile from the house, the engine cold. Inside, in the back, the police found my father dead, covered in blood. He had been stabbed through the heart.”

The investigators found slash marks on his father’s wrists and a note on a yellow sticky pad by the driver’s seat. “Is this the answer?” it read, in his father’s shaky scrawl. They ruled it a suicide, death by “puncture wound,” an impossibly grisly way to go, which made it all the more difficult for Joiner to understand.

Suicide is a Primarily Male Problem

In his latest book, Lonely at the Top, Joiner asks, “which cause of death stands out as affecting men far more than women?  Given their privileged financial and society status, perhaps it has something to do with the dark side of wealth and power such as the cardiac or stroke-related consequences of influential but stressful jobs, or a taste for expensive but unhealthy foods?”

“No,” he says, “It’s suicide.” Approximately 30,000 people commit suicide each year in the U.S. and 80% were men. Overall, males kill themselves at rates that are 4 times higher than females. But in certain age groups men are even more vulnerable. The suicide rate for those ages 20-24 is 5.4 times higher for males than for females of the same age.

In the older age groups suicide is even more a “male problem.” After retirement, the suicide rate skyrockets for men, but not for women. Between the ages of 65-74 the rate is 6.3 times higher for males. Between the ages of 75-84, the suicide rate is 7 times higher.  And for those over 85, it is nearly 18 times higher for men than it is for women.

A New Understanding of Why People Die by Suicide 

Joiner is 47 now, and a chaired professor at Florida State University, in Tallahassee. He’s made it his life’s work to understand why people kill themselves and what we can do to prevent them from taking their lives. He hopes to honor his father, by combating what killed him and by making his death a stepping stone to better treatment. “Because,” as he says, “no one should have to die alone in a mess in a hotel bathroom, in the back of a van, or on a park bench, thinking incorrectly that the world will be better off without them.”

Dr. Joiner has proposed a new theory of why people commit suicide which he believes is more accurate than previous formulations offered by writers like Edwin Schneidman, Ph.D. and Aaron Beck, MD. According to Schneidman’s model, the key motivator which drives people to suicide is psychological pain. In Beck’s understanding, the key motivator is the development of a pervasive sense of hopelessness. Dr. Joiner suggests that these are correct understandings but are also too vague to be useful for predictive purposes and not capable of offering a complete motivational picture.

Joiner proposes that there are three key motivational aspects which contribute to suicide. These are: 1) a sense of not belonging, of being alone, 2) a sense of not contributing, of being a burden 3) a capability for suicide, not being afraid to die. All three of these motivations or preconditions must be in place before someone will attempt suicide.

Although women, too, can take their own lives when they suffer at the intersection of  “feeling alone, feeling a burden, and not being afraid to die,” this is clearly a more male phenomenon.  Throughout our lives males take more risks and invite injury more often.  We are taught that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing” and “no pain, no gain.”

We often invest so much of our lives in our work, when we lose our jobs or retire we feel worthless, unable to contribute.  It’s a short step to feeling we are a burden on those we love.  We also put less effort into developing and maintaining friendships so we can come to feel more and more alone.

Preventing Suicide In Men

I’ve found that Joiner’s model, what he calls the Interpersonal Theory of Suicide, can be very helpful in understanding suicide risk in men. The three overlapping circles help alert us to the kinds of questions we might ask ourselves if we want to prevent suicide. Joiner and his colleagues have developed a questionnaire that addresses these issues. Here are a few of the items they assess:

Thwarted Belonginess:

These days, I feel disconnected from other people.

These days, I rarely interact with people who care about me.

These days, I don’t feel I belong.

These days, I often feel like an outsider in social gatherings.


Perceived Burdensomeness: 

These days the people in my life would be better off if I were gone.

These days the people in my life would be happier without me.

These days I think I have failed the people in my life.

These days I feel like a burden on the people in my life.


Capacity for Suicide:

Things that scare most people do not scare me.

The sight of my own blood does not bother me.

I can tolerate a lot more pain than most people.

I am not at all afraid to die.


Like most people, I’ve had thoughts of suicide at numerous times in my life, but the one time I felt at high risk of actually killing myself was when all three sectors overlapped. I was lucky that my wife was smart enough to remove the guy from the house until I saw a therapist and got into treatment for my depression and my suicide risk subsided.

Some people believe that if a person is going to kill themselves, there’s nothing one can do. If you try to stop them, they’ll just bide their time and do it later. However, we now know that suicidal intention is transient. If we can get support to get through those times when we feel disconnected, a burden to others, and having the means and mind-set to actually kill ourselves, we can begin to develop the social supports to turn things around.

I suspect the difference between James Joiner’s dad and my dad wasn’t their level of  “thwarted belongingness” or “perceived burdensomeness” but my father’s lower capacity for suicide. Disrupt one of the risk circles and we buy ourselves more time to heal.  Making a connection can be as simple as a smile. I read the report of a man who left a note as he walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. It said, “If one person smiles at me, I won’t kill myself.”  The note was found after he had plunged to his death. We can all reach out, in our own way, and touch someone who may feel disconnected, disrespected, and useless.

We can also let in the love when we are feeling down. I remind myself, and my clients, to take heed of the lines from the Eagles song Desperado.  “You better let somebody love you, you better let somebody love you, you better let somebody love you…before it’s too late.”

If you’re dealing with feelings of hopelessness or thoughts of suicide, help is available.  800-273-TALK (8255) is on-call 24/7 if you need to talk, or reach out to a friend or health professional in your life.



photo: jamesackerley / flickr

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About Jed Diamond Ph.D

Jed Diamond, Ph.D., is the Founder and Director of the MenAlive, a health program that helps men live long and well. Though focused on men’s health, MenAlive is also for women who care about the health of the men in their lives. Jed is the author of 11 books including his latest: Stress Relief for Men: How to Use the Revolutionary Tools of Energy Healing to Live Well. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network. He is also a member of the International Society for the Study of the Aging Male and serves as a member of the International Scientific Board of the World Congress on Gender and Men’s Health. His homepage is MenAlive.com.


  1. Great article…! And, yes, it is a challenge to try to help a friend, who denies that there is any problem with himself…

    Our longtime friend lost his father at age 7 years old…all he remembers is an angry man who whooped him with a belt if he did not bring home straight As on his report card….

    Our friend now has a 12 year old son…and his behavior at home is not pretty…

    We have tried to help them and support them..but we are being pushed away and shut out by cover-up lies…it seems our friend is trying to keep his father’s memory alive by imitating his behavior and words…very sad stuff…

  2. It scares me how well I fit these right now, and how extremely well I fit the “capacity” set.

    • Madeira, Its fine to be the breadwinner, but don’t ever let yourself believe that is your sole identity. Thanks for sharing your fears. Reaching out to others is good for us all.

  3. I came across this article because I am about to end my life soon. I am over 40 and after 2600 resumes, I have given up on ever finding a job again. I was not always like that. In my youth I was an outgoing person and athlete. I enjoyed life worked hard until a back injury forced me out of the electrical trade. At the age of 31, I made my biggest mistake. I went to college after advisors told me there was a need for legal assistants. After completion of my AS degree, no experience, no work. I went on to earn a BA degree and the same thing again. No experience no work. I have been without a job since I graduated in 2005. I have no more savings, I am depressed, I am an alcoholic and now too old to get a job. A few years back, I tried to get into a nursing program but they have long waiting lines to get in. I am now 44, with no hope to live a productive life and have no more energy nor drive to continue. I have given up sports which I always loved, I can not even get out of the house sometimes. I am not looking for sympathy here. I just came across this site and wanted to share my opinion. These job recruiters are mental and one day they will get old. I am looking forward not having to worry anymore soon and be done and over with all this. Thank goodness I have no kids in this world out there.

    • Please hang in there Mark. I’m 44, recently my wife left me and took our 4 kids because of my untreated depression and mental illness stemming from many years in the emergency services here in Australia. I too have lost my job through all this because I got in trouble with the police and most days for me are almost unbearable. I have no income, can’t support my kids and at the moment I am useless and a burden to those around me. I have no qualifications of any use and I accept that I’m at rock bottom. Please believe the rock bottom thing and believe the only way life can go is up. I look at the sky every day it is blue and convince myself things can only get better. I have made two suicide attempts in the past 12 months and I’m glad they were unsuccessful even though I still have some very bad days. Please hang in there.

    • Mark,

      I don’t know if you went through with it or not. However, if you did, I hope you were able to access a reliable and comfortable method, and weren’t forced to use a violent, traumatic (for others too), unreliable method with horrible potential for mishap.

      If you didn’t go through with it, I hope that that was the right decision and you are doing better now.

  4. To Simon and Mark,
    I think you are both incredibly brave men. The world needs men like both of you. Men who feel things deeply. I know you are both having hard times but Do Not Give Up. Try something else. Even volunteering at a homeless shelter or some other needy place can give you a sense that life is worth not giving up on.
    You also understand others dispair and are obviously intelligent men so go and give to those worse than you. Who knows what other doors may open to you.
    Our darling boy left us suddenly 14 years ago when he was only 14. It was a bolt out of the blue. I want you both to know that our sons death and our daughter lost her brother has had a profound effect on our lives.
    He is out of whatever pain he was in and by not reaching out to us for help he has left us with the pain of his loss and the additional pain of our failure to save him. Please do not inflict this pain on those who love you and from the little I have read here you both sound like very lovable men. Life is a box of chocolates. You may have eaten all the horrible flavours but in amongst them are also those lovely flavours to enjoy.

    I wish you both the best and send you strength and belief in yourself.

  5. This article hits close to home. I was in the army and we didn’t lose any men over in Iraq. But since coming home we’ve lost three men to suicide. It’s hard to tell what the symptoms are, especially with military guys. All of us have the symptoms, “comfortable with blood,” “comfortable with death and dying,” etc. That was our everyday life over there. It’s why there’s twenty-two vets killing themselves everyday. Thanks for the article though!

    • Michael, Thanks for the comments. PTSD and other forms of trauma are treatable, but people who feel disconnected often don’t reach out. That’s why its so important for all of us to reach out through our writing, sharing our experiences, and creating an atmosphere of trust for people to know that they are not alone and that caring help is available by people who’ve been through similar experiences and understand something about their feelings.

  6. As a female who knows several females who committed suicide, as well as someone who has worked in adult mental health, I can’t help but shake my head at this article. Why are there a much large number of males who commit suicide? It’s been known forever that men who attempt suicide usually use more lethal means then women do. Women don’t have use guns, they often use medication. If you really intend to die, you can’t really “get it wrong” if you use a gun.

    Every female I know who went on to commit suicide felt all three of these things:
    1) A sense of not belonging, of being alone;
    2) A sense of not contributing, of being a burden;
    3) A capability for suicide, not being afraid to die.
    How on earth can this be considered unique to males? PEOPLE who kills themselves feel this way, no matter their gender.

    • Anonymous says:

      Because, simply put, men are different than women. No matter how many equal rights activists scream that we are EXACTLY THE SAME, we are not, and it is simply stupid to keep insisting that we are.

      • Tom Brechlin says:

        Melisa, I commend you for your work but if you see men and women as being the same, you’re doing one or both a dis-service. All three that you mentioned can be seen on face value as being similar to men and women. The fact that you pointed out that you know of “women” who have committed suicide leads me to believe that you focus a lot of your work on women. It’s also a fact that women more often “attempt” suicide but men out number women in succeeding. Why do you think that is? Men, who are determined, do it. Women and men may be “equal” but are no means the same.

        • Josh K. says:

          “It’s also a fact that women more often “attempt” suicide but men out number women in succeeding. Why do you think that is?”

          Because just liek she said, men use more drastic and lethal ways. That is the only reason. Now, why men use more drastic ways? Because masculine culture is usually heavier in violence, or focus more on active violence. To shot yourself in the head, to put a gun to your head is a big move. A move most women will not do, as that is not something conditioned in them. Their always are usually more passive – and because of that, less efficient sometimes, or more times than men’s.

          By the way, I did not see her saying men and women are exactly the same anywhere.
          (In fact, I always wonder why is it usually only straight men who always almost start screaming and crying when someone mentions women and men “could” be the same… I guess not agreeing with it is fine, but you guys act as if this simple thought is the worst nightmare ever. That is telling. Maybe you guys are the same people who shame men who are more feminine or “gay”, as if it was the worst thing to ever be more “like a woman”? Ok guys, ok.)

  7. I tried to post a comment, but the screen reloaded so an ad could play, and I lost the whole thing. This is a newer shorter comment.

    Interesting article. Unfortunately, I can say all those things about myself. Fortunately, I’ve never thought of suicide. Though, I did wake up with chest pains several weeks ago, and just laid there hoping for the best.

    All I’ve wanted for my life was the opportunity to realize my full potential. I was going to college, with plans for medical school. Was getting straight A’s, and had excellent references. Then, a mountain of medical bills closed the door to med-school, along with all of my backup plans. I then spent around 10 years doing travelling contract work, because they supplied housing, which otherwise I would be living on the streets. After 10 years of doing that, money reared it’s head again, and I had to quit that path.

    During a 5-6 year period of unemployment I applied to well over 1000 positions. The result of all that was a job as a cashier at a department store. So, the result of all my hard work has been going from an aspiring pre-med student to a cashier with the lowest income I’ve ever had, having to depend on friends and family for my survival…all because of having had pile of medical bills that I couldn’t get past… My best estimates are that it will take me another 20+ years to get past all the damage that that has caused. I’ll be in my mid- to late- 60’s at that point. A little old to be finally starting a career. And that will be the first time I’ve ever been able to support myself.

    I truly feel like I’ve missed a ton of life. I have significantly more regrets than not. I’m tired of having to depend on others. I’m tired of having my entire life be dictated by money.

    He says in the article… “We often invest so much of our lives in our work, when we lose our jobs or retire we feel worthless, unable to contribute. It’s a short step to feeling we are a burden on those we love.” I’m 44 years old, and I’m still trying for the opportunity to get a career. I’m still trying to support myself. I am a burden to those I love, but they’ve all given up on me.

    Until my money situation improves, I guess it’s going to work each day and getting yelled at, degraded, and made to feel like crap.

  8. Why do you eliminate my comments. What are you afraid of.
    I stated that our North American society has become female oriented.
    Many men feel like failures and thus want to commit suicide.
    What’s wrong with that? As long as they don’t hurt anyone but themselves.
    Many women have stated that they live quite well without men.
    Universities have programs teaching women how defunct men are in the world.
    Yet heterosexual men cannot live without women.
    Our society only tolerates successful men.
    If men feel they are not a part of this world then they should exit.
    If women feel they are better off without men then let them live in such a world.

    • Josh K. says:

      Let’s see…
      Yeah, North American society is both male and female oriented. In some ways they support more men’s fantasies, in other ways they support more women’s. Men not being the leaders anymore in many aspects does not mean women have it all, or that men lost it all. That is reactionary bullshit.
      Many women also feel like failures and want to commit suicide. In fact, MORE women attempt suicide than men.
      And that is amazing that women finally know they can live without men (a partner, for example). Men know well enough they can live without women as well, and have always known and bragged about that. Of course that, as a society, we can’t live with only one gender. But that is said in a personal level only, unless the person is too delusional.
      And no, I don’t see “women” believing they are better off without men. Women has never commit genocide against men. There is no signs of it happen soon.

  9. A young man who worked for me (he was only 22) took his life last week and this has devastated me. I cannot understand it. He was so bright, continuing school to get his Masters this fall. If any one out there is planning to do this awful act – please stop and think about what happens to those you leave behind. I am not even family to this person, only knew him for a short period of time and I am reeling. I cried for two days and could barely function at work. You don’t know how far reaching your suicide is. It touches people beyond immediate family and friends. And suicide can be contagious – this young mans father committed suicide – and the grief that endures can make others want to stop living too. Please find a way, any way to not end your life. Look to those who have survived incredibly bad things and discovered joy. Realize that things always look different in the morning. When in a bad place mentally, do something to break the spell. Please. I will spend my entire life now wondering about this beautiful young person, and constantly asking WHY and wondering if I could have done something to prevent it.

    • Brook Edward says:

      Sorry for your loss Pat. I truly am. But as someone who has been suicidal, your pleading for people to stop and think about what happens to those left behind is pointless. When you are in such a state that you are ready to take your own life, you cannot find the emotional energy to care about what happens after you are gone. The only thing is the compulsion to get out of this life right now. It’s like standing in the window of a high rise with a fire raging behind. You have to jump and you have to jump now to avoid burning. Nothing else matters except ending the pain.

    • I’m sorry about how this has affected you.

      However, you’re blaming the wrong person,:the young man. His decision might have been wise. I can’t know for sure, and neither can you (for sure), and ironically neither could he. But it remains a possibility.

      More to the point, his decision probably wouldn’t have been particularly traumatic for you if he lived in a free society. There are studies coming out showing suicide (in the context of euthanasia) is in some cases even less traumatic than a natural death if the person is able to talk to and prepare their loved ones.

      One of the tragedies of society’s effectively inflicting torture against people by using force to make them live against their will (or deny them the means of a comfortable and reliable death) is it traumatises loved ones.

      It also makes it less likely that a suicidal person will talk about it, and so gain the chance to get support from loved ones or professionals. It forces loved ones or strangers to come across scenes of suicide and attempted suicide. It puts cops in the position of having to shoot people who just want to die and don’t have the means.

      It causes people like my lovely friend to have to die horribly by hanging. After being raped, no less. She shouldn’t have had to go through that and then that.

      It causes other people to suffer brain damage and vertebrae damage through the same method, or blow half their face off, but live, or damage organs, but survive (or die painfully) via poison, or … well you get the idea.

      Above all, it makes people go through the indignity of realising they are slaves to the government.

      It’s unfortunate that this young man felt so bad and I’ll never know whether he made the right or wrong decision. But I do know he had to do so isolated, alone, unable to reach out without fear of losing his autonomy. And that’s tragic and evil. Those who would use force against the unhappy are tyrants and should be ashamed, present company not excepted.

      May he rest in peace.

  10. Allen lexy says:

    Well, the future is a big problem, especially when there are negative elements in a persons future, if there are obstacles in the future, the past is not a problem but if you can fix the future for suicidal people you will remove their need for suicide, they are avoiding some elements of the future let it be career, imprisonment, torture or anything else…….stop using complicated theories and just realize that people who don’t have obstacles or negative items in the future, or if you promise and assure 100% and have 100% proof that things will be fixed then you can eradicate the problem, but still having a perfect future is not a destiny that all of us are furnished to enjoy, so there will always be suicide as long as there are human beings………….

  11. wanna know why men commit suicide more then women..fact no one wants a man that fails at life but everyone wants a woman …some men can’t take failure and some can…I jumped out of a third story window in 2000 shattered both my legs and ankles spent six weeks in the hospital…why did I jump because I am a failure my accident didn’t change anything about my life just made it worse for me know I can’t work cause of my past injuries prevents me from it I’m dirt poor and have nothing what’s keeping me from trying again well the memories of my fall haunt me still today the suffering I went through the surgeries I had to put my ankles and lower legs back together still affect me to today…I ruined my life cause of a suicide attempt and regret it I might be poor as dirt but I have my life thanks to god and my life might never get any better cause people don’t care if I’m alive or dead I’m just a lost human in a rich mans world trying to survive

    • Dear John,

      There are no failures in life, only trials that make us stronger and wiser. There’s so much to be thankful for in life, everyone has a purpose in this world…everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has their own problems. Try to reach out to people, you can get what you want by helping others get what they want. Learn to accept and love yourself just as you are, I promise you life only gets better. God loves you!


      • Yeah, it’s possible to fail at achieving one’s core desires and objectives in life, and more profoundly than just that.

        P.S. You don’t know that life gets better, and you’re making an unethical promise.

  12. “I feel disconnected from other people…”

    Thank you for writing this enlightening article….I could never understand this about my ex…. He felt disconnected from everybody… On the surface, he seemed like the normal suburban dad with three beautiful kids…I never really understood him….I think his near dying from peritonitis from a burst appendix as a young teen and the later death of his sister in an auto accident always separated him from normal living people….it is frightening to see how picture perfect people look on the outside at first… And then you scratch the surface and all the ugly stuff is revealed, like finding black mold when you peel away a wall in a house during renovation….

  13. I’m a little concerned that having a sub-heading “Suicide is a Primarily Male Problem” is dangerously divisive, and it’s making that same error of alienation that some of the more unhelpful sub-cultures of feminism makes of labelling something a “women’s issue” when it is in fact a “person’s issue”. The fact that suicide is four times higher in men is indicative and symptomatic of “men’s issues”, but I don’t think it’s necessarily helpful to say “Suicide is a male problem” (I know I’m skipping the crucial word “primarily” and I know that makes all the difference, but people aren’t going to hear that). Also the three causes of suicide are not different in a woman than they are in a men are they? They’re just more likely to converge in a male. So the question is what factors mean that a man is more likely to be socially disconnected – why are we so bad at making friends – is it a psychological flaw (i.e. something to do with the individual) or a sociological one (i.e. some difference in the way we all behave towards a man as opposed to a woman) or a bit of both? Why are we more inclined to feel burdensome? Is there something we contribute that is undervalued? Are the defining features of male worth too narrow? We know of a time when young women would commit suicide on account of sex, or moreover pregnancy, outside of wedlock made her feel like she’d lost all value – and that’s been addressed socially; we now have a different way of valuing women in which virginity plays no part. So we have to ask on what criteria male worth is judged that someone can, on an equally capricious twist of fate, decide that their worth has gone and is irretrievable. We know that, in fact, it’s to do with earning potential. Far too much store is placed on what a man earns as a guide to his worth, and we live in an economy that also believes that. “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” was the choice phrase by the mother of free market monetarism in Britain. There’s no worth in the Van Gogh’s and Franz Kafka’s who die peniless with nothing but a body of work to show for it.

  14. David Wise says:

    The author makes it seem as though loneliness is the biggest component to suicide and I have disagree with that to an extent. I think a major reason people commit suicide and murder/suicide is the fear of losing their livelihood or romantic interest. When many people lose their job or go bankrupt, that’s when they take extreme measures. A broken marriage or relationship can also trigger a suicide. These situations in life produce the most stress and can lead to depression.

  15. The middle part, the questionnaire, reads like a poem.

  16. Eirik Rogers says:

    Thank you, Dr. Diamond, for such an informative article. Like you and so many others, my life has been deeply affected by the suicide of someone close to me. In my case, it was my best friend, and he left behind a widow and a young son, both of whom he loved very much. To me, he was like my big brother; we were best friends since we were ten. And none of us could save him.

    Dr. Joiner’s perspective is interesting because it is more than a look at suicide from the emotional sterility of a purely professional perspective. It has the added dimension of deep and sad personal experience. I suspect the answers he seeks are not only to quench a professional thirst for insight, but to address a personal longing to make sense of his father’s tragedy. So it is with the deepest respect that I question the absence of the fear of death as one of the tenets of his arguments defining one’s capacity for suicide.

    In my long climb out of the emotional crater left by my friend’s suicide, I was profoundly impressed by the memory of a conversation I had with him just two weeks before he killed himself.

    “Gee, I don’t want to die,” he said.

    I remember it sounded like a plea, as if he was trying to sway an executioner’s decision. I am convinced that he took his life not because he conquered the fear of death, but because he could not conquer the fear of living. The latter did not dilute the former; it steamrolled over it.

    My friend did not want to live in his pain any more. But that did not mean he wanted to die. He flat told me he didn’t want to die. And I thought it was enough to know that. The sudden and overwhelming resoluteness of his death just two weeks later completely blind-sided me. And so I feel compelled to share this, because if anyone looks to gauge the suicide potential in another by measuring their perceived fear of death, they may be in for a very nasty surprise.

    And when you think about it, a diminished fear of death merely lowers the hurdle over which one must jump. When that hurdle remains high, as I believe it was with my friend, it speaks a deeper truth to the immensity of pain that can cause one to overcome it.

    • I’m not sure that not wanting to die and not fearing death are the same. I stay alive because I don’t want to die–life is precious even in pain and there is always joy to remember or hope for–but I don’t fear dying. That lack of fear would probably make a difference if other things got worse.

    • Eirik, I am convinced you are right. My sons said the same things to me before he died. Of course he did not want to die. He wanted a girlfriend, friends, a job, a house. He was scared. It took a lot of panic and anxiety and fear before he could finally muster up the courage. It was his third attempt. He had been sharing his fears and his loneliness and almost every other aspect with us. He just could not bear his loneliness nor the way his future looked – he was depressed and suffered from schizophrenia. Which makes his case a bit different from some of the other people who answered in this thread. But yes, he did answer to those three criteria. And no, we certainly did not miss those warning signs. We tried to help in every which way we could. He knew that.

      • “Eirik, I am convinced you are right. My sons [sic] said the same things to me before he died. Of course he did not want to die. He wanted a girlfriend, friends, a job, a house.”

        Very profound.

        May your son rest in peace.

        And I’m glad you recognised what your son was going through and tried to help. I’m sure that meant something to him..

  17. I think this is dead on. I am still alive right now for one reason only: my parents would miss me if I killed myself. There have been many times in my past where I would not have hesitated to end my life if I had not known that my parents needed me alive.

    • Michael, thanks for your post. I am in exactly the same position, but with my children. My wife is divorcing me, taking everything, and I’ve had to rebuild my life on my own from the ground up. I don’t get to see my son and daughter very often; she took them from me when they were literally the only reason I had left to live. About 15 mos. ago I was a moment away from taking my own life, but the thought of not being there for my kids, particularly my beautiful sweet 5 year old daughter, kept me from stepping over that line. Even though I’ve got a good job now, a place of my own, and a girlfriend, I still think about it almost every day… and the only reason I still haven’t is because my kids are so important to me.

      • Anonymous says:

        Paul–i am touched by your predicament. I also am divorced and the exact lament you express regarding your children is the one thing preventing me from happiness. Like you I get a lot of my identity from my kids. It is natural part of being a dad.

        Hang in there. This pain you feel is temporary. And if you ex is keeping the children away from you and saying shitty thing about you, keep being the dad you know you can be. All this stuff passes and your children will find their own truth about their parents. They will eventually come to see you for the kind, loving father you are. Hang in there. Hang in there. This is all temporary.

        • Tom Brechlin says:

          Paul, Anonymous … your stories have to be told over and over and over until society starts listening! And I hate to use the cliché that “you’re not alone” but it’s true. You’re not alone in a sense that many men/dads are going through the same thing. Unfortunately though, you are alone in that society has ignored and neglected men/dads like the two of you and have given little to no support.The devastation men go through is seldom acknowledged as it should be. Hang in there and know that there are men who care.

  18. I agree with everything you have written. I have tried to commit suicide 3 time when I was a teen. The last time was by cutting my wrists.

    Since than I think I became a successful businessman. My life has been on downward spiral for the last 3 years and I am very tired.

    I hope my 4th attempt will be successful, I am 35.

  19. I Can’t help but feel a lot of men commit suicide for simple loneliness, lack of intimacy, lack of sex. Rejection.

  20. Thank you for this article. Thank you.

  21. Anonymous says:

    I broke up with my bf in February and since that time he lost his job and got a DUI. He texted me last Monday morning at 0023 and said this is the last message I will receive from him. I did not get the message until 0723 that morning. He shot himself in his garage. He smothered me and was post divorce, went back to his ex twice. I was not in love with him but I did not want him to die. I don’t understand why something did not urge me to get the message or wake up and save him. It hurts to feel so guilty.

  22. Is this just an ad for a book? I didn’t get much out of it except hints about what’s in the book. I’m not being flippant: I lost my dad to suicide when I was 24. As for me, I have the first few symptoms but that fear of death thing…yowza, no thanks! I like being alive, as burdensome as it sometimes seems!

  23. Remittance Girl says:

    I think men are different from women when it comes to suicide and that has a great deal to do with the very rigid expectations and inflexible definitions about what society sees as success for a man. I think most people commit suicide because they can’t make meaning out of who they are when they don’t live up to social models. But meaning making and language are very closely related. It is, I realize, a generalisation but women tend to be better communicators, and I think this goes a long way to accounting for the gender disparity in suicide numbers.
    When you can discuss your feelings with others, when you take in diverse points of view, those rigid models of success loosen up. You find ways to find meaning for yourself outside the rigid models.

  24. Thwarted belongingness 9/12. This article depresses me.

  25. Al Porter says:

    Imagine you are in a situation where a bully is abusing you. The bully takes your money, hits you and yells at you constantly. You try to tell friends and family what is going on, but they either don’t believe you or can’t give you any useful advice on what to do. Since the bully is smaller than you, if you try to retaliate you will be considered the aggressor. When you realize that the only way to escape the bully is to move away, the bully takes all of you money and prevents you from seeing your children. Since you have nothing left, you end your own life. However, since society views this particular group of bullies as “victims”, these stories are suppressed and the excuses given are “obsession with work” or “high risk lifestyles”, or a bunch of other vague nonsense contained in this article.

    • ChissBountyHunter says:

      Document every incident. Go to the police and show the bruises. If they laugh at you just say you don’t hit people smaller than you so how to protect yourself? Install a hidden camera when the bully is not around. Make a trail. It’s good to not retaliate, but you can protect yourself and your children.

      • When somebody hits you, you try to escape. When they hit more, you try to restrain them. If they are as strong as you or stronger, you won’t be able and only then you should fight back – but only enough to be safe again. Simple education we should be learning at home, uh?

    • You should never hit someone smaller than you to protect yourself, you can restrain them. Of course, a smaller person could be holding a gun or a knife, could be a martial arts major and on and on… but you know what I am talking about. That would definitely be retaliation/revenge and you will be the worst aggressor.
      You can try to record it. Get it on camera. If you are already away, good enough. Society do not see these people as victims, though. It is just more difficult to prove your victimization.

  26. Thank you for minimizing suicide in females. No problem at all. Because they don’t succeed as often as men. Perhaps if my niece had a GUN or other way other than pills, she’d have succeeded with her TWO attempts already. Maybe she will succeed with attempt number three?? To you, it wouldn’t matter.. it’s a male problem, not a human problem.

    It’s NOT a MALE problem or phenomenon. It’s a HUMAN problem thing.

    STOP bringing females into something when you want to talk about males. Stop with the statistics of male/female stats. But of course, it doesn’t matter to you that FEMALES attempt more!! Can you imagine how many suicides there’d be if females DID succeed? Then we’d not have people like you thinking suicide is a male problem.

    So only males have expectations on them??? LOL WISHFUL THINKING!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. It is more of a male problem . Men die from suicides 4 more than women . According to some stas in the military is even 6 times more than women more .I think women are attempting to do it more to get attention . Men die in alarming numbers . Its to much pressure from the media for men to be in control ,to be a provider , to be strong . Men up , men up ….right . Most homeless people are men so….there . And women live longer . Who is the victim ?

  28. I think about suicide all the time. I have a firearm so it would be quick and easy. Unrealized ambitions. Physical problems. Financial insecurity. No friends or close family. I’m now 35 years old. The hopelessness that I have towards the future is overbearing and relentless. I can’t imagine things getting better because they have been bad for so long. I just want to end the pain and suffering. Every day is misery.

  29. Good stuff, but a typo near the end had Freudian slip and made me chuckle. Instead of my wife “removed the gun” it says she “removed the guy” from the house. Maybe, wife having a guy live in the house was part of the problem? So, ladies if you have your lover in the house it might make suicide more of an option for your husband.

  30. These three warning signs are bullshit. This is coming from an actual suicidal person. With an I.Q. somewhere in the 130’s.
    No, I’m not egotistical, nor am I looking for praise. I am simply drunk and feel like reappraising this crap. Actually I might be a little egotistical. Whatever.
    1. Thwarted Belonginess. All four of the writer’s subs are pretty much the same fucking thing: I don’t fit in. yeah, you/we/me are the round peg in a world of square holes.
    2. Perceived Burdensomeness (Are these even words?) Suicidal people have no one. I mean the real ones. Like me. Besides my dog, I have not a single human being on this planet that would stick his or her neck out for me. So how about for the sake of possibly saving someone tonight, we just scratch this shit off the chart. People who are truly depressed have no one. so fuck your perceived burdensomeness. Did a hipster write this article?
    3. I’m too tired to reiterate what the OP posted, something about the capacity to kill yourself. The real capacity to do yourself in is that you are completely empty inside; you have no friends, no family, you have failed at love, friendships, a career, a passion; you are already fucking dead inside. The fear of blood? Seriously? Yeah I get weazy when I break a toe or cut myself, what the FUCK does that have to do with my capacity to kill myself? Ever heard of a shotgun to the head? CO? Mexican barbiturates? As far as a fear of death, or the lack there of, yeah maybe he might of gotten that one right. A truly suicidal person doesn’t fear death, but embarrasses it. I can’t WAIT to die.
    And for all reading, this is not a cry for help. Truth is I am going to kill myself there are jsut a few things I have to take care of first. I drink every night and sometimes i stumble upon shit like this that pisses me off. That is all this is. Happy New Year, Merry Christmas. Go fuck your mother.


  1. […] Lee el texto completo en The Good Men Project. […]

  2. […] Why Men Commit Suicide: The Three Warning Signs Most People Miss JULY 13, 2013 BY JED DIAMOND PH.D […]

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